Written by AAPIP CEO and President, Pat Eng
September marks my one-year anniversary as President and CEO of AAPIP, and it surely has been a memorable one. The first six pre-COVID-19 months feel like an eternity ago and each subsequent COVID-19 month could very well be measured in dog years.
The pre-pandemic me would wake up and feel energy and excitement about the endless possibilities that each new day could bring. I would look up at the sky and feel connected to the people across the country and all over the world going about their day under that same sky as a shared reference point. Since then, I have stayed largely indoors, trying to stay balanced through record-breaking wildfires and a continuing spate of hurricanes on top of economic devastation and the painful pervasiveness of anti-Black racism. Now, at the end of each day, I look at the night sky and try to make peace with it all. Here are some reflections from that rear-view mirror.
Impact of COVID on AAPI Communities
The words I penned last year in my first Letter from the President unfolded into urgent practice as this new decade introduced the pandemic for its opening act. In its deadly path, the pandemic hit the reset button on the world economy and exposed systemic fault lines of anti-Black racism felt up and down the color continuum in myriad ways. The knee felt around the world opened a new window for social transformation.
AAPIP sprang into action early to address rampant anti-Asian hostility (that still persists, fueled by this nation’s highest office), quickly followed by the grotesquely disproportionate impact of the pandemic on communities of color. Major news outlets have been lifting up the racial disparities in these many months, but less is known about the impact on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
With so much going on, you may have missed the outsized impact COVID-19 had on Pacific Islanders. In Northwest Arkansas, which has the second largest nationwide population of Marshallese after Hawaii, the Marshallese community make up 3% of the local population but experienced 7% of the deaths attributed to COVID-19. In Spokane, Washington, Pacific Islanders represent a third of COVID cases even though they are only 1% of the population.
And what about those AAPIs who do so well that we never have to worry about them? The jobless rate for Asian Americans in August was 10.7%, far exceeding unemployment for White Americans, at 7.3%, and for workers overall, at 8.4%. Unemployment among Black and Hispanic workers was 13.0% and 10.5%, respectively, and while we know that Native Americans have also been very hard hit, the report referenced rendered them invisible without mention. Early in the pandemic, unemployment claims in NYC increased by a jaw dropping 6,900% for Asian Americans, by far the largest percentage increase experienced for any racial group. A recent report from McKinsey found that a large share of businesses that have been hit hardest by the pandemic are owned by Asians, who are overrepresented in sectors such as food and accommodation services, retail, healthcare, and social services.
AAPIP’s 30th Anniversary
Through all of this, AAPIP marks its 30th anniversary in full pandemic mode, charting a course that meets the moment in this new decade. Our 30th anniversary theme Solidarity Matters honors AAPIP’s efforts over three decades in shaping and moving the philanthropic landscape. AAPIP began this journey 30 years ago alongside Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP) at a time when our combined presence barely filled one table at the largest annual conference in the philanthropic sector. We honor the groundbreaking work of our colleagues and partners at ABFE, the first affinity group in the sector, as we build strong partnerships to evolve philanthropy. And we proudly partner with Hispanics in Philanthropy, Women’s Funding Network, and Funders for LGBTQ Issues to evolve and form what is now CHANGE Philanthropy.
The theme Solidarity Matters goes beyond a “black and white” or zero-sum approach. We know that racial equity goals in philanthropy cannot be achieved without including AAPIs, Native Americans and Latinx people alongside Black people. We know that we must delve into the complexities of gender and gender identity, class, and ableism alongside the ways that racism divides communities of color even with some shared or similar experiences. It is counter-productive to invisibilize AAPIs and we insist on being part of the larger narrative. For AAPIP, solidarity matters is not a slogan but a practice that we are committed to evolving. People of color have (literally) built this country from the ground up, with each group contributing greatly to the evolution and promise of a vibrant democracy. We are done with fighting over crumbs.
Now, as always, each of us (personally and professionally) must do our part to ensure a democratic civil society. With philanthropy being one of the few sectors able to weather the financial storms of this pandemic, we bear a greater responsibility in the most urgent of times to fund transformation. This goes beyond the 5% payout debate (which should not be one) or how much philanthropy pledges for racial equity in the short term. In my view, this is a time of financial and historic reckoning of where the money comes from, where it goes, and who makes those decisions. It is time for transformation of the philanthropic sector.
As I end each pandemic day, I am sad that so many lives have been lost along the way to pivot to this moment. A heavy price to pay, we honor those whose lives were cut far too short and fight for all to live fuller lives of great potential. I came to this sector drawn by its definition of the love of humanity, bringing with me the ground truth from a working-class community that taught me what humanity looks like. With the humility of raising money for a non-profit organization that I started from scratch, I have seen firsthand how philanthropic dollars can support transformational change. Together, with all of you, I am here to make a difference. Together, we continue to fight for the promise of a country, indeed, a world, that we can all be proud to live in, starting with this sector we call philanthropy.
As I take one final look at the sky each night, I know that the next day brings new possibilities, if only we seize them.